The Marquis de Lafayette visited Schoharie Crossing by canal boat in 1825 and had a reunion with two Mohawk Valley patriots.
According to Jim Kaplan of the Lower Manhattan Historical Association, there are plans to commemorate Lafayette’s American tour to mark its 200th anniversary in 2024 and 2025.
The Marquis was a wealthy French aristocrat whose father had been killed by the British in the Battle of Minden in the Seven Years War, when young Lafayette was only two years old.
Lafayette grew up to fight alongside George Washington during the American Revolution. Lafayette played a key role in the British defeat at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781.
During the American Revolution, the Frenchman visited Johnstown New York and was entertained by the families of Jacob and Thomas Sammons, who leased the former Johnson Hall for four years after the Loyalist Johnson family fled to Canada.
In 1824 President James Monroe, who had befriended the French nobleman when they both served on General Washington’s staff, invited Lafayette to tour the United States. In 1825, the Marquis was traveling east on the New York Erie Canal through the Mohawk Valley.
Thomas Sammons and his son Simeon from the Mohawk Valley were going west by canal boat from Albany. When they arrived in Schenectady, the town was festooned with flags, flowers and evergreens.
The Marquis de Lafayette was expected to arrive that day. However, according to an account printed in “Illustrated History of Montgomery & Fulton Counties, New York, 1772-1838” published by F.W. Beers in 1878, word came that Lafayette would not get to Schenectady until the next day.
Sammons proceeded west on the canal in hopes of meeting up with Lafayette’s packet boat. When the Sammons boat came to Fort Hunter, where the canal crossed the Schoharie Creek east of Fultonville, Lafayette’s vessel approached from the other direction.
Beers’ history book had this account of the meeting, “Mr. Sammons’ boat was at the crossing when the packet conveying the illustrious Frenchman bore down upon it, decked with streamers and evergreens, even the harness of the horses bristling with flags. A jubilant crowd upon the tow-path, horseback and on foot, kept abreast of the coming boat. Sammons was exhorted to hurry across the creek and out of the way, that there might be no unnecessary delay to the progress of nobility. He, seeing his opportunity, hastened to comply, and landing with his son, came back to the towing bridge from which he was able to board the packet as it arrived.”
The Marquis was reclining on a couch but recognized his old friend Sammons. Sammons and Lafayette had a brief reunion, extended when Lafayette ordered the boat be held there for a time, against the wishes of its captain.
The Beers’ book continued, “Mr. Sammons stepped ashore, as may well be supposed, a proud and happy man, and his son a proud and happy boy, no doubt, or he would never have told the story with such readiness and spirit when on the downhill side of life.”
The boy, Simeon Sammons, grew up to be the commander of the 115th New York State Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War. Sammons was wounded in the foot at the Confederate victory at Olustee, Florida in 1864. He recovered but was wounded again when the regiment fought at the Crater in Petersburg, Virginia. Simeon then returned to Fonda and later was elected to the State Legislature.
Lafayette died in Paris in 1834. Thomas Sammons, who served two terms in Congress in the early 1800s, died in Johnstown in 1838. Simeon Sammons died in Fonda in 1881.